Gender stereotypes do not equal parenting

“There is a time in a boy’s life when the sweetness is pounded out of him; and tenderness, and the ability to show what he feels, is gone.”Norah Vincent

Working in an office environment can be very enlightening.

I’m often amazed at how much people are willing to reveal about themselves – especially regarding stereotypes, which continue to proliferate throughout society.
I present the following example.

While searching through a library of stock images, I came across a photo of a father and son (who was around 8 years old) walking on a golf course – see photo below.

What I perhaps found most compelling about the image was how the father held on to his young son’s hand as they made their way to the next hole. In my mind, it was a simple yet profound expression of a parent’s love, acknowledgment and guidance – qualities so important in a child’s development.

Father and Son Golf The photo instantly inspired those who noticed it on my screen – well, not everyone.

A man in his late 40’s exclaimed, “what an odd photo”. I remember thinking to myself, “why odd”? It wasn’t as though each of them were dressed up in Halloween costumes.

What he said next made me cringe. “A father and son should never hold hands while playing sports.” He then began to prophesize about masculinity and how emotion has no place in such an athletic circumstance. After a while, all I heard was “blah, blah, blah”.

I should stress that he was completely serious in his comments towards the image – a truly frightening realization to me – repeating them days later as if trying to make some kind of statement.

The older I get, the more disheartened I become over society’s continual support of tiresome stereotypes – mainly those which exist in support of establishing and maintaining one’s masculinity.

What I’ve come to discover is men feel the need to defend and even prove their masculinity to everyone around them – quite pathetically overcompensating through words and actions no secure individual would ever vocalize, simply to reaffirm their gender.

They’re fearful of the ridicule and bullying that undoubtedly comes along with not adhering to an unwritten code of conduct for the male gender. Boys can’t play with dolls, they aren’t supposed to cry, blues and greens are “boy” colors and sports are the recreation and subject of choice.

And as these antiquated notions are continually passed down through the generations, young boys find themselves filled with anxieties to live up to these stereotypical standards – standards no one should have to abide by.

Today, instead of men being unique, they all talk the same language, wear the same clothes, drive the same cars (or should I say trucks), listen to the same music and even do the same chores around the house – all in the name of securing their manhood based on stereotypes so many of us deem important.

In Sidney Poitier’s book, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, he writes, “A large part of my father’s legacy is the lesson he taught his sons. He brought us together and said, the measure of a man is how well he provides for his children.”

How well a father “provides” for his children goes far beyond the basic physical needs we all assume and expect. Children deserve support, compassion, communication, unconditional love and acceptance.

But perhaps most of all, they should know that you’re proud of them – regardless of the path of non-conformity they may choose to travel down.

Henri-Frederic Amiel once wrote, “It is not what he has, or even what he does which expresses the worth of a man, but what he is.